Astros stay in the win column

McCullers Jr. returns to the mound as Astros start 2-0 against the Mariners

Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

With the first game and win under their belt, the Astros went back to work on Saturday against the Mariners in Houston. They worked behind Lance McCullers Jr., making his return to the mound after missing the 2019 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. McCullers would put together a strong start, and Houston's offense continued to stack up runs en route to the win and a 2-0 record.

Final Score: Astros 7, Mariners 2.

Record: 2-0, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (1-0, 3.00 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Taijuan Walker (0-1, 13.50 ERA).

Houston strikes first and builds an early lead

In the bottom half of the first inning, the Astros wasted no time at the plate, getting a one-out walk by Jose Altuve, who moved to second on a single by Alex Bregman, then scored on an RBI-single by Michael Brantley, grabbing a quick 1-0 lead.

Yuli Gurriel made his first hit of 2020 an impressive one, crushing a ball in the bottom of the fourth for a solo home run to extend the lead to 2-0. Later in the same inning, Kyle Tucker would end Taijuan Walker's day with an RBI-double to make it 3-0, and Martin Maldonado added two more on a two-RBI double to push the lead to 5-0.

McCullers Jr. provides six strong innings

Lance McCullers Jr. struggled with his command early in the game, starting in the top of the first loading the bases after a double and two walks. He would get a much-needed double play to end the threat, keeping the game scoreless. He had more traffic in the second inning but again was able to induce groundballs to keep the lead. His first clean inning came in the third as he was able to settle in, though in the top of the fifth, George Springer made a nasty collision with the center-field wall going after a fly ball, which resulted in a leadoff triple.

The Mariners turned that into a run with a sacrifice groundout, but McCullers Jr. would follow that with two strikeouts to end the frame. In the bottom of the fifth, Carlos Correa made it a five-run lead again with an RBI-single to bring the score to 6-1. McCullers Jr. would complete the sixth inning, even after allowing a solo home run to trim the lead to 6-2, leaving in position for the win. His final line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 1 HR.

Houston's bullpen wraps things up again

After the scary impact with the wall earlier, Springer must have felt just fine, launching a two-out dinger in the bottom of the sixth to make it 7-2. In the top of the seventh, another Astro made their major-league debut, this time Cristian Javier out of the bullpen. Javier worked around a one-out single for a scoreless inning of work.

Cy Sneed took over on the mound in the eighth, and he was able to work around a one-out double by striking out three Mariners. Still 7-2 after eight, Roberto Osuna made his 2020 debut in the top of the ninth after being labeled as questionable to take part in this series after a slow progression in Summer Camp. Osuna was able to put an end to the game, throwing a scoreless inning to move the Astros to 2-0 on the early season.

Up Next: Game three of this four-game set will be on Sunday at 1:10 PM Central at Minute Maid Park. The pitching matchup will be Yusei Kikuchi on the mound for Seattle, going opposite of Zack Greinke for Houston. Greinke will be making his first meaningful start since Game 7 of the 2019 World Series.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome